What To Do With Pools?

Council Eyes Concerns Over Having Different Entities Involved

Old tensions regarding the separate management of the two city pools, one indoor and one outdoor, resurfaced again on Thursday, Oct. 18, as Bobbie Wagner, branch executive of the Rockbridge Area YMCA, gave a presentation on the 2019 outdoor pool season. She was requesting a three-year contract with the city to be able to plan for future outdoor pool seasons.

On the whole, Council members were sympathetic toward the YMCA’s suggestion. But some felt hesitant about approving the contract without airing certain grievances, and acknowledging the past.

Earlier, resident Charles Alligood alluded to this history in a public comment.

“If you’re gonna talk about [the Rockbridge Aquatic Center] they need to be here to defend themselves.”

It used to be that both pools were managed by the nonprofit FOR Swimming. The indoor “bubble” pool is still run by FOR Swimming and managed by Leslie Ayers.

But in 2017, in a move that caught many people by surprise, former City Manager Noah Simon asked the Y to take over the management of the outdoor pool from Ayers, who had managed the outdoor pool for 16 years.

The indoor and outdoor pool are right next to each other, and following the change in management, dual pool users would have to pay separate fees. Council member David Sigler said that many are still frustrated by that.

“They feel they’re paying more out of pocket, and I don’t have a great comeback to say how it’s a good thing for them,” Sigler said.

Wagner said that she would like to address the dual fees that but her hands were tied.

“I think it’s ridiculous, as a community member, I agree, I think it’s ridiculous,” Wagner responded. “There’s absolutely no reason why the YMCA and the Rockbridge Aquatic Center cannot partner to strengthen community together, and we have offered that.”

Wagner said that the YMCA wanted to figure out a joint membership that would allow residents to use both pools for just one fee. She said she pitched this to the Rockbridge Aquatic Center, but they were not interested.

“The door stays open for that, we would love to have that happen,” Wagner said. “Unfortunately, I think due to the history and a lot of other things, that’s not been reciprocated.”

FOR Swimming Board President Valentina Dimitrova-Grajzl told The News-Gazette last week that the Friends of Rockbridge Swimming board has not received a proposal for partnering with YMCA. According to Dimitrova-Grajzl, at the beginning of the YMCA’s term as manager of the outdoor pool, a branch executive had an “informal” conversation with the aquatics director, conveying the city manager’s desire for a joint membership.

“It was our aquatics director’s understanding that the YMCA had no real interest in pursuing this and the conversation ended there,” Dimitriva-Grajzl wrote in an e-mail. “Subsequent to that conversation, we have not received any communication from the YMCA for such a partnership.”

Asked for further clarification from the YMCA last week, Wagner gave this response: “A conversation was initiated with the indoor pool manager to discuss a joint pool membership. No proposal was submitted because there was a verbal statement expressing no interest to partner with the YMCA. The YMCA moved forward and has managed the outdoor pool the past two seasons introducing several family fun events. We continue to stay open to new partnerships as we move forward to positively impact children, families, seniors and community.”

Another concern that Sigler addressed at the Oct. 18 Council meeting was the current pool hours, which had changed along with the new management. Specifically, the Y decided to stop offering the weekday morning lap swim hours that outdoor pool users had appreciated and grown accustomed to. Sigler said that he still hears from residents that would like to see those morning hours reinstated.

Toward the end of the meeting, Sigler wondered about the possibility of amending the contract to say that any modification to the hours would need Council’s consent, not the city manger’s consent.

“Since this contract’s being run through us, and we’re voting on it, it says the hours of operation will not be changing from year to year, if they are going to change I think we should be the ones to vote on it,” Sigler explained.

Other Council members did not express interest in such an update to the contract.

Earlier in the meeting Council member Leslie Straughan said that, completely outside of these operational concerns, they would need additional financial information from the YMCA before approving the contract.

“When this was presented, not by the Y but from a previous city manager, it was said that it would be budget neutral, and it’s not quite showing to be that,” Straughan said.

Wagner said that the Y’s fiscal year should close out in the next week or two. After that, she would be able to provide Council with additional financial information.

Council member Dennis Ayers, however, was hesitant to commit to a three-year contract with the Y for other reasons.

Specifically, he wondered if the Rockbridge Aquatic Center and FOR Swimming were planning on submitting a proposal to manage the outdoor pool again.

“I personally would like to see that proposal,” Ayers said. “I don’t care honestly whether the Y or FOR Swimming runs this pool; I care about what the city taxpayers pay and what the patrons of the outdoor pool want.”

He suggested postponing the decision until a new city manager was hired. Then he or she could review the two proposals (assuming FOR Swimming submitted one), and come to Council with a suggestion.

Council member Michelle Hentz objected to this, saying that a new city manager may not be in place until December. She also said that it was too late to look at alternative proposals for next summer.

Council member Chuck Smith pointed out a clause in the contract that states that the contract could be terminated by any party at any time on 60 days written notice, which gives the city a pretty strong out should it decide on alternative management.

“You didn’t ask for my opinion, but I’m gonna give it to you anyway,” Interim City Manager Brenda Garton said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the Y to say, at this point, we want you to manage the pool this summer, and let them move forward, and commit time and resources to planning, and then jerk it away from them.”

Garton recommended committing to the next summer at the very least, and then assessing options from there.

Ayers said, “I do think it would be helpful to at least express that the city is willing to look at other proposals.”

“In the event that the city may be interested in considering alternative proposals for the operation of the outdoor (city) pool, FOR Swimming would be pleased to develop and submit such a proposal,” Dimitrova-Grajzl told The News-Gazette last week. “Since our organization focuses on promoting swimming (including pool operations and swim programs), we believe that we could develop an alternative proposal that would allow the city to increase the number of service hours and services at no additional cost the city.”

Straughan made a motion to delay the decision until Council members have more financial documents from the Y.

Council is expected to make a decision about the contract at its meeting this Thursday.

The News-Gazette

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